If you’ve decided to hire a financial planner, you should consider your choices very carefully. You’ll be sharing your financial information with this person, so you want to make sure you can trust him to provide quality advice and look out for your interests first. Unless you meet the financial planner at a seminar or some social event, your first contact is likely to be over the phone. Read on to see what you should expect from this first conversation.
Your call should be answered promptly and by a friendly, professional person. If you’re calling a small, solo financial planning firm, the person who answers may actually be the financial planner. For larger firms, you’re likely to speak with a secretary or assistant first. Let them know you’re interested in learning more about their financial planning services. Depending on the firm’s procedures, you may be transferred directly to a financial planner, a business development/marketing person, or you may be asked for some basic information first. Understand that the firm operates in this way for a specific reason and be willing to work with their requests unless they’re unreasonable.
Early in this initial phone call, the planner or other representative of the firm should ask you if you have a few minutes so they can describe their services. This description should include a summary of the services they offer, their typical client, and the associated fees.
If they do not tell you what the fees are up front, don’t be afraid to ask them now. This process helps you get an understanding of what the planner can do for you and whether or not you will need the services they offer.
Some planners may mention a minimum account size or net worth so that you can screen yourself out of their services. If you are far from reaching their minimums, politely say so and move on to the next planner. Trying to work with a financial planner focused on wealthier clients is likely to cost you much more money and may not provide you with the essential services you need.
If they do not take the time to discuss their services and fees with you but instead rush to set up your first meeting, be very wary. Anyone who is not willing to take the time initially to teach you about what they can offer you is likely a pure salesman. You should be on your guard when hiring a financial planner as there are many out there who will not put your interests first. But be especially careful when the planner moves quickly to set up your appointment without first taking the time to let you know what they do.
After describing the services they offer, the financial planner should ask you if you have any specific needs or services they did not mention. They may also ask you, “Do you feel like these services will be helpful to you?” Be up front and clear. If you are looking for a planner who will manage your investments and do your tax returns, say so. This will avoid any misunderstandings or disappointments and keep you from wasting your time in a meeting to find out the planner will not suit your needs. On the other hand, set your expectations carefully. Though it can be nice to get everything done at a “one-stop shop”, you may be forsaking quality or integrity for convenience.
Setting the First Meeting
If both you and the planner are in agreement that their services may meet your needs, the next step is to set a date, time, and place for the first meeting. The planner should explain what will happen at this first meeting and let you know if you’ll need to bring any specific documents along. They may also send you a packet of information further describing their services and requesting information from you before the initial meeting. Carefully complete any requested information if you’re comfortable with it and return it promptly so the planner has time to review it prior to your meeting.
You should go into the first meeting not looking for specific recommendations for your situation but with the understanding that you haven’t yet hired this financial planner. You should prepare a list of questions to ask the planner about what their services entail, how they charge for their services, their qualifications, if they are required to put your interests first (fiduciary duty), and if they meet state and federal regulatory requirements. We’ll discuss the first meeting in more depth in a later article.